The Matchup: Valparaiso returns home to the ARC for the first time in three weeks Friday night when the Crusaders host Loyola. The game kicks off a stretch in which the Crusaders will play five of their last six regular season games at home.
Series History: The Ramblers hold a significant 32-7 edge in the all-time series, including winning all three games since the Crusaders joined the Horizon League. Most recently, Loyola earned a 71-56 win in Chicago on Jan. 17 of this year. Valpo, which was playing with just six scholarship players in that matchup, fought back from a 13-point deficit to within five points with under six minutes remaining, but that was as close as the Crusaders would get. Michael Rogers led the Crusaders with 16 points to pace three Crusaders in double figures. Howard Little connected on 5-of-7 attempts from the floor for 12 points, while Cameron Witt scored ten points for the second straight contest.
Last Time Out: Detroit’s Woody Payne split a pair of free throws with 2.3 seconds to play Saturday afternoon in Detroit, Mich., accounting for the final margin as Valparaiso fell to the Titans, 56-55. Valpo led for the first time in the second half with just five minutes to play and was ahead 55-54 with 39 seconds left after Howard Little hit two free throws. But the Titans split a pair of free throws on their next trip, and following a Valpo turnover, Payne got to the line for the winning marker. Michael Rogers led the Crusaders with 12 points, reaching double figures for the first time in the last five games, while Little scored 11, his sixth time hitting double figures in the last seven outings.
Following the Crusaders: Today’s game can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network, a three-station entity carrying Crusader athletics all over Northwest Indiana. Originiating from WVUR, 95.1 FM in Valparaiso, the VSRN also includes WEFM, 95.9 FM, Michigan City; and WAKE, 1500 AM, Valparaiso. Veteran broadcaster Todd Ickow returns for his 18th season on play-by-play for the Crusaders, while WVUR’s David Schroeder will handle the color commentary. Lakeshore Public Television will also be broadcasting the game live throughout Chicagoland with Dick Harlan and Joe Arredondo providing the call. The broadcast is also available nationwide on ESPN Full Court and online at ESPN360.com. Live audio will also be available online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats and video through the Horizon League Network.
Facing a Tough Slate: The Crusaders have taken on one of the toughest schedules in the country as measured by a pair of rating systems. The Sagarin ratings, as published in USA Today, rank Valpo’s schedule as the nation’s 21st-toughest to date. Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, as published at kenpom.com, come to a similar conclusion, ranking the Crusader slate 26th to date, including 11 games against teams ranked in the top-100. Pomeroy also rates the defenses that Valpo has faced cumulatively as the fifth-toughest nationally.
Back to the Dramatics: Three of Valpo’s last four league games (Green Bay, Butler, Detroit) have been decided by single digits, a rare sight this year for Crusader fans. Prior to the Green Bay contest, this year’s Valpo team had only had two games decided by nine points or fewer, and both such affairs (San Diego, La Salle) occurred within a four-day span in the Virgin Islands. This lack of close contests comes off the heels of last season, when 21 of the Crusaders’ 36 matchups were decided by single digits.
Looking for Home Cooking: The Crusaders return to the ARC for the first time in three weeks today, a place where they hold a 5-4 record this year to date. Valpo has five home games left, including tonight’s game, and with three wins will finish above .500 at home for the 16th consecutive season.
Friday Night Lights: Friday night basketball at the ARC has been a rarity, as none of this year’s players have played a home game on Friday during their careers. The last Friday men’s game at the ARC occurred on Dec. 12, 2003, coincidentally also against Loyola.
Akron the Foe: Akron will be the opponent on Saturday, February 21st at the ARC in a matchup derived from the ESPNU BracketBusters pool. The Crusaders have earned wins in each of their previous two home games in the event, defeating Niagara and Miami (Ohio).
Drew Nears Milestone: Crusader head coach Homer Drew is now just one win shy of 600 for his career after Valpo’s victory over Milwaukee Jan. 22. Drew would become just the 33rd Division I head coach to reach the 600-win milestone.
National Audience Watches Valpo: After appearing on national television seven times during the 2007-08 campaign, Valparaiso has made three national TV appearances this year. Valpo was featured in a showdown with top-ranked North Carolina on ESPNU on Dec. 20. The Crusaders’ contest at Purdue Dec. 28 was broadcast on the Big Ten Network, while their game last Friday evening at Butler was shown live on ESPNU as well.
Postseason Trips: Valparaiso’s trip to the inaugural College Basketball Invitational last season was its first postseason berth since the 2003-2004 campaign and extended an impressive streak. 16 consecutive classes of Crusader basketball players have experienced at least one postseason tournament.
Record-Setting Start: If senior guard Jake Diebler is in the starting five Friday against the Ramblers, it will mark a new Division I record for the Crusaders. The senior currently shares the distinction with Dan Oppland of being part of the starting lineup for 91 straight games. After not starting in any of his 18 appearances as a freshman, Diebler stepped into the starting quintet in the 2006-07 season opener against Calumet and has not come out since.
240 and Counting...: In addition to his consecutive games started streak, Diebler is working on another impressive streak. The senior has not come off the floor for six straight games, playing each one of the 240 minutes, believed to be a record for consecutive minutes played at Valpo. Diebler still has a ways to go to have the longest streak in the Crusader basketball wing, however, as women’s assistant coach Christy Smith played 445 straight minutes as a freshman at Arkansas.
Igbavboa Doubles Up: Senior forward Urule Igbavboa posted his second double-double of the season last Thursday, going for 21 points and 14 rebounds at Wright State. This came off the heels of the Butler game, where the senior became the first Valpo player in over a decade to lead the Crusaders outright in points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in the same game. The team leader in scoring (11.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg), Igbavboa moved into eighth on Valpo’s all-time rebounding chart last game and now has 662 career caroms. He is also 20th all-time in Crusader history in scoring with 1,089 career points.
Little Continues Hitting Buckets: Sophomore guard Howard Little reached double figures in scoring for the sixth time in the last seven games on Saturday at Detroit. Little connected on 6-of-9 shot attempts en route to 14 points on Thursday at Wright State and chipped in 11 points against the Titans. He has averaged 13.9 ppg over Valpo’s last seven outings. The team’s second-leading scorer (9.3 ppg) and rebounder (4.8 rpg), he has hit at a .418 clip from behind the arc this season, good for third in the Horizon League.
Next Year’s Newcomers: Valparaiso will have six new players on the roster next year, four of whom are freshmen, one junior college transfer and one transfer. The six newcomers are:
- Ryan Broekhoff, a 6’6” guard from Frankston, Victoria, Australia. Broekhoff was named Australian Junior National Male Player of the Year earlier this year and was the MVP of the U20 Australian national championship.
- Chris Halvorsen, a 6’8” forward out of Henry Sibley [Minn.] H.S. Halvorsen helped lead the Warriors to a state championship appearance last year and was selected to the All-Tournament Team. He also has twice earned All-Conference honors.
- Beas Hamga, a 7’0” center who transferred to Valpo from UNLV. Hamga started classes in the spring semester, making him eligible to play at the end of the fall semester next year. The native of Cameroon was ranked 26th in the country in his high school class by Rivals.com, where he was rated a five-star recruit.
- Matt Kenney, a 6’3” guard out of Mooresville [Ind.] H.S. Kenney was an honorable mention All-State honoree last year, while also earning All-Indianapolis Metro West First Team accolades and All-Conference honors.
- Tommy Kurth, a 6’1” guard out of Penn [Ind.] H.S. Kurth was also an honorable mention All-State honoree last year and has been ranked as the #54 point guard in the Class of 2009 by ESPN.com. He has been among the top-25 scorers in the area the last two years.
- Brandon Wood, a 6’3” guard from Kokomo, Ind. Wood is playing this year at Highland [Ill.] C.C. after playing just six games last year at Southern Illinois. Wood took part in the Indiana North/South All-Star Classic following his senior year and is projected as the top incoming point guard in the Horizon League next year by Rivals.com.